tagRomancePatience, or Finding the Pearl

Patience, or Finding the Pearl


As she walked, Patience Gardiner was a bit surprised to find herself remembering passion. She could call it that now though she would have not then. She had been raised, as was proper, to think of these things modestly, if at all. That morning when he had stroked her hip she had crossed her legs very firmly and turned her face into the pillow even as he touched her oh so gently and she felt her will leave her.

As Patience skirted the boulders perched along the cliff's edge, she smiled to find her thoughts in such a direction. Seven months ago she was but a girl with little ken of the ways of love, much less those of the body. She peered out to sea as if her glance could take on seven league boots and catch sight of the Excelsior, the clipper on which Harry was third mate.

A year ago she would not have predicted that she would be Mrs. Henry Gardiner, nor living in a 'fancy cottage' at the edge of Villier common, nor carrying what was likely to be the next generation of Gardiners. Of course she was not absolutely sure, but she was so regular and the monthly curse had not yet come.

She had reached the path to the little grove she called her own. No one, she believed, went there besides herself, at least she had seen no sign. When she was a girl they had always been warned away from the cliff's edge and especially the area of the waterfalls. For this is where the 'silkies' were reputed to come ashore, part man and part seal, to ravish unsuspecting and careless young women, leaving them with strange children who ate like wolves and disappeared on stormy nights. So the tales went around the fires. She had never given them much credence.

She loved the grove. It was invisible from all angles, a small, narrow gully that the stream had cut on its way to the sea. It could only be entered by a small gap in the briars. But once there, it was magic. She laid her cape out on the thick carpet of pine needles and stretched languidly upon it. It was warm out of the wind, and a shaft of strong sunlight penetrated the trees. Toward the sea, a triangle of blue revealed where the stream went rushing over the cliff.

She could make out a crisp, white sail on the horizon and she envisioned that it was Harry already returning. She dared not think too strongly of the thirteen months before his ship would make port again, nor the storms, nor the distractions of exotic women in the Spice Islands or China, or the South Seas. She blushed as she remembered him telling of the women there who wore little but a skirt made of paper cloth, how they would splash happily in the waters with a hungry child attached to one breast.

Soon this would be her fate she mused, unbuttoning the top three buttons of her bodice as she never would do even in her own home. But it was very warm here...The thought of Harry...His remark about the women of the islands had come as he tried to coax her to remove her modest face from the pillow. She did not think it seemly that a respectable New England couple should be disporting themselves in the daylight, and on a weekday! But he had mentioned the island women and then praised her own bosom.

His remark was that each of her breasts was like a loaf of new warm bread. Someone had pushed ripe strawberries into the soft crust and the juice had bled out in a dark circle around each one. He had asked to taste this fruit and she had allowed it though she had kept her face buried in the comforter. He had stopped his caresses, disappointed.

"I dearly love to place my mouth on thee," he had remarked. "But thee cruelly deprive me of a treasure for which I most humbly beg." He then told her that the night before, when, despite her reluctance at this new sensation, she had been carried forward to a height that made her lose herself; he was enchanted by the vision of her face, her eyes filled with moonlight. But it was her fine nose that had so stirred him. "For," he said, "each delicate nostril had flared so wide at that moment, like two miniature trumpets, that I could almost hear the tune of ecstasy that thee was feeling." In fact," he murmured, "thy mouth made an identical bell, thy tongue, "like a clapper rung by your heart, tolled, oh...ah...oh." She had hushed this florid flattery, but blushed at the compliment and the heat which the remembrance kindled.

"Do not deprived me of that vision in the daylight," he had pleaded in a sweet genteel tone.

Lying there on the bank with the noisy whispers of the stream rushing past, she remembered his face hanging above her in the early morning light, his straw locks all amess around his face, his arms firmly on either side of her like fleshy pillars and the curls on his chest catching the sunlight like gold wire. She knew of no other man who was covered with such a beguiling fur. Of course, she knew of the bodies of virtually no other men.

She had glimpsed the upper bodies of laborers, black and white, in the fields. But she dared not venture closer. A small laugh burst from her as she imagined approaching the foreman of the work detail and politely requesting that she be allowed to stand and examine the bodies of his laborers.

But Harry had shown her some labor that day in the sunlight. His sweat had dripped hot upon her. His face had flushed with the power of his exertions. And she had given him a complete and noisy vision of her trumpets.

Later that morning she had awakened with some languid guilt and he still lay across the sheets in wonderful abandon. His face in sleep was child-like and reminded her of nothing so much as the golden putti above the altar in the Cathedral of All Souls. When first she had attended services alone after that comely day she blushed to have that memory return even as Reverend Stone extolled the virtue of fortitude to the wives who had so recently been abandoned by their seafaring mates.

In the shadowy grove Patience picked up her gift from Harry. It was a ginger jar, wonderfully marked with pale blue Chinese designs. Attached was a small envelope. She was now ready to read it. It began "My darling fox. Please accept this humble gift as a symbol of my constant thoughts of you. Within, you will find the precious stuff for which men die, the oil of the great whale. Use it to burn a small lamp in my memory until I return. Or else you may do as they say the French women do. I learned of it in this manner.

"The Bo 'sun and I were remarking on the weathered hides of the whales moored to the ship which carries this to you. He jested that the marks reminded him of the flanks of his beloved Polly, so many children had she borne. I was distressed, thinking of you in your new state. Laughing, he mentioned that the ladies of the continent (pardon me now) rub the oil of the whale upon their bellies, bosoms and limbs so to 'ease the skin' and preserve its virginal qualities. I asked why Polly did not use this remedy and he laughed again, saying that she would rather use the oil for a lamp for reading after all the children were abed. It was her only small time of sanity and worth the 'chevrons of honor' to her motherhood, as she calls them."

Patience read the sweet words of endearment at the end of his letter with some sadness, hearing his voice in the written words, wishing that she could have been there by the rail as he joked with the Bo 'sun. If she had dared to stow away...what adventures they could have had together! But she was most likely 'enceinte' as the French say of mothers-to-be, and no righteous ship would be burdened with such a sow. She felt some self pity and a good deal of anger at men who were so ready to sail off to the ends of the earth leaving their loved ones to fend for themselves.

Brusquely she broke the seal on the jar and pulled the lid off. The thick liquid inside splashed upon her hands bringing a foreign musk into the air. She rubbed the oil between her fingers and it brought a memory of something. But the memory refused to surface. Peering within the jar all was dark like the sea where the whales dwelled. But then something caught a glint of light. When she tilted the jar to see better, it rolled across the bottom and clicked against the side.

With a little reluctance she reached into the jar, not wishing to spill the precious liquid over the edges. With the tips of her fingers she touched a smooth little ball. It rolled away and it took some stirring to find it again. As she held it delicately, yet firmly enough to draw it upward, she grasped the memory of an earlier time with similar sensations. Her body tightened with a feeling of shame. She almost would not wish to admit that it was something she had done.

She held before her eyes a large pearl, pink as a sunset. Harry must have paid a pretty price for this beauty. But of course he could buy it from the divers themselves. Perhaps he had seen it brought up from the bottom of the sea by a brown skinned woman wearing nearly nothing. More than a gem, this was another token which linked their lives. Impulsively, she took the pearl and put it into her mouth. The whale oil had a strange flavor, an animal flavor.

With a secret smile, she rubbed her oily hand upon her neck and then remembering what he had written in his note, she spread the oil downward using her free hand to unbutton her bodice further. It was a luxury, which she would not have envisioned had it not been for the gift. She surprised herself by dipping a finger into the jar and bringing forth more of the delicate liquid. Under her fingers she imagined a new swelling as her breasts prepared to create milk for their child.

Strawberries. She closed her eyes and imagined that the press of her own fingers was the sweet lips of a child or the tense clasp of Harry's mouth. This delicate spout would one day feed an infant. Now it begged to be crushed against those delicate golden wires on Harry's chest. She pressed the heel of her hand into the hard button and a sensation like soft fire flowed suddenly down into her belly. Was there a life growing there?

She swore she could feel something delicate dance within her. Busily, her left hand opened the gray cotton all the way to the hem. She realized that she was breathing as though she was running...eager. She lifted her petticoats revealing that delicate curve of her belly Harry called her 'bowl of wheat.' Again she visited the ginger jar, this time cupping up a small pool of oil with her fingers and dripping it into the deep hollow of her navel. Soon this skin would swell with the growing life within.

She meant to minister to her skin, but another urge was stronger. She could not keep her body from rising to meet the hand and the slippery touch of the warm oil. Soon she had soaked the rusty thatch that grew so thickly at the bottom of her belly. Soon the silky hairs were as slick and dark as on an otter which has leapt up the riverbank. This skin grew hot,ruddy,and swollen as it was stroked.

Now she made no pretense. Her hand rushed and pressed those plump lips as though to urge them to speak. Her elbows sought her nipples and crushed them to her chest. Her heels dug into the bank as though some great hand were dragging her into the stream. But the force inside would not let her go. She held the pearl in her lips and pressed it with her tongue until her lips grew white; then she tucked it in her cheek as the hot waves began to flow outward from her middle. They took her face, her hands, her thighs. She could not stop it...she would not stop them shaking until she had given birth to love, letting it pour over her lips, taking her breath, her hands, her womb, into the stream leaping over the cliff into the sea and into an urgent current across the ocean, rocking the hull of Harry's ship, invading his dreams.

High above her she could hear a tern cry, seeking food, seeking its mate. For a few moments her hunger cooled. She felt the warm sun hold her gently. The earth seemed to rock beneath. The stream sang a lullabye. A seed of doubt was planted in this peacefulness. Was what she was doing a sin? Many would think it so. They would see it as vanity, as a turning away from spiritual, chaste thoughts.

Patience turned her head and felt the touch of a breeze brush the sweat on her brow. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a small green beetle walking through the grasses. A wren was searching the earth for fabric from which to weave her nest. A fish leaped in the brook. Who had the right to tell nature to be still?

Slowly the fire rose in her again and she let it burn. She felt her hands, her limbs take on a spirit all their own, one exactly akin to all that howled and chirped and sang around her. Her fingertips danced over that skin that had now become most exquisitely tender. A silken rope attached to the sky seemed to pull her belly upward higher and higher at each touch. Suddenly it seemed as if all the sounds in the universe stopped and there was only the rapid, urgent demanding of her hand, a mad heartbeat. Tiny waves lapped on the shore of her thighs.

She surrendered. And all the liquid in the universe seemed to flow from her. Pure happiness. This was a victory. No one owned her at this moment. She had chosen to join nature in her dance and they had danced marvelously, round and round the maypole of living things. With rumbling shudder, the magic let her go and a feeling of peace came so deep it rested on the bones of the earth. Her hands became languid, her knees limp and helpless, falling apart so that her sex lay moist and open to the sky. The sweat between her breasts cooled. A breath, which flowed from her, seemed to go on and on.

In her waking dream she was captain to the most beautiful ship, a shining white schooner with sails of rose. It cut through green seas while dolphins leaped across the bow. She knew that she was on a journey to see Harry. But she also knew that she had her own ship, and the weather for sailing was very fine.

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